Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Meets Monster Bots

I live in a boy-centered household.  Sure, my daughter and I bring a good level of estrogen into the mix, but with two boys, we girls often find ourselves drawing pictures of monsters, playing imaginary games centered around dragons (and monsters), and designing monsters or (surprise!) monster traps.

How a fluffy pink and purple cat named Moon Star Kitty can transform into a monster in the hands of the boys is definitely a masculine leap of the imagination.  But, both Amelia and I have learned to enter into their world while sprinkling it with some feminine princess sparkles and plots about becoming a sous chef or veterinarian.

When it comes to finding reading material for these imaginative six and eight year-olds, I find myself working overtime to find books that appeal to both genders.  Thankfully, I have achieved success thus far with the Magic Tree House, Berenstain Bears, and A to Z Mysteries book series, all of which have both male and female main characters. 

However, as my oldest son edges ever closer to a middle school reading level, I am conscious of how many books are not age appropriate when it comes to their content.
Ron Bates' newest How to Survive Middle School & Monster Bots--a sequel to book one in the series entitled How to Make Friends & Monsters--is fun for the tween set without being crude, inappropriate, or espousing values like laziness, deceitfulness, and selfishness as does the ever-popular and hilarious Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

The book series' premise is that Howard Boward is a super-smart middle school boy who is constantly picked on by mischievous-spirited bullies.  The books do a good job demonstrating  typical middle school environment with first crushes, first dances, wedgies, snowballs, and alienation from the in-crowd.

Bates' second novel focuses on Howard realizing that his academic rival is part of a science club sponsored by his favorite teacher at school.  Unbeknownst to him, for months, the club members have been building robots, and when Howard finds out, he thinks he can just put one together overnight in his garage's secret lab. 

When things don't work out as expected, Howard decides to use monster goo, which got him in trouble in the first book of the series.  A robot literally pops out overnight, and Howard decides to enter it into the contest, which is the equivalent of cheating.  Along the way, he struggles to understand how the other club members can want to help each other, even when they are competing.  He also learns that a quiet guy in his class actually is hearing impaired (not a super spy or an alien) and quite a good friend.

Of course, Howard's robot is comically uncontrollable and begins stealing parts from around town as it replicates itself to build a robot army.  The result is part mystery, part comedy, part real-life drama.

Overall, the novel does a good job of teaching--but not preaching--about the value of hard work, of helping others, of not judging based on appearances, of trying new things, and of not getting even with your bully enemies even if you have the robot-power to do so.

My only critique is that it takes over half of the book for Howard to start learning these lessons so that the conclusion feels rushed.  Still, my boys love anything with Monsters, and this definitely fits the bill to make them and mom happy.

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